Our island’s earliest indie sneaker store Leftfoot has always been a trail blazer in terms of product offering and shopper experience. Their new store at Mandarin Gallery sees the retailer in fine facile form
By Ray Zhang
Fond memories accompany me whenever I visit the Leftfoot store. I still remember their first in Far East Plaza in the mid-2000 (yes, Far East Plaza had a lot more going for it than their sad present (but Gen-Zers won’t remember). Leftfoot exposed me to the world of limited-edition kicks, as well as those in colours not offered in the regular releases available elsewhere here, before I visited Tokyo’s Atmos and Mita Sneakers for the first time. The Far East Plaza store closed, as were other cool stores such as the buzzy bag shop Trever, led by former Bodynits designer Gary Goh, and multi-label Ambush and Surrender (the first stockist of Supreme) set up by Earn Chen (also, later, Cherry Discotheque And Potato Head Folk), invariably dubbed “the poster boy” of the SG streetwear scene. In fact, if you go further back to, say 1982, there was even designer fashion—Thomas Wee’s first boutique! Yes, Far East Plaza was that happening even if, looking at it now, you would never have guessed.
Leftfoot was founded in 2003 by Anthony Ho and Kevin Lo, considered pioneers of the streetwear scene back then (Mr Ho started in the retail of vintage clothes). After their Far East Plaza venture closed around 2008, to the dismay of fans, they reopened Leftfoot in Cineleisure Orchard, then a youth-oriented shopping destination that seemed poised to take over from the old Heeren, but never quite did (now, in fact, it’s also, like Far East Plaza, a shadow of its former self). A larger store, intriguingly called Leftfoot Entrepôt, followed at The Cathay; it was a space put together with an edge not seen in sneaker retail then, designed as if for hanging out, with a wood-wall store front that practically obscured the going-ons inside. When both the Cineleisure Orchard and The Cathay stores closed in the middle of this year, some of us thought that what we considered an SG institution had come to an end, until they posted on Facebook that a “new location will be announced soon”. Sure, they continued to sell Via Facebook and Instagram (even offering free delivery for purchase above S$60) in the mean time, but, for me, seeing the kicks personally and being able to try them on makes a difference—massive difference. Moreover, I missed the indie vibe of their physical stores, which often made me feel like I was shopping overseas. Leftfoot is not Limited Edt.
That distinction is again made clear with the new Leftfoot store, opened on 16 July in the hard-to-defined (maybe that’s good) Mandarin Gallery. Since its reincarnation in Cineleisure Orchard, Leftfoot always has an edge about it. The store turns footwear retailing quite on its head, and in doing so, draws the attention of sneakerheads. (Sure, Limited Edt also sells, as its name suggest, some merch considered rare and available in limited numbers, but, to me, their stores have no personality and the friendliness level—even in not-quite-atas Queensway Shopping Centre—leaves little to be desired.) Leftfoot never has a window, at least not in the traditional sense of store windows. At Cineleisure Orchard, I remember, the first shelving unit of a single row of them on the left of the compact space, was situated right at the store front. Shoppers were picking up their fave kicks and trying them on the corridor of the mall! Conversely, at The Cathay, there was only an entranceway and shelves of shoes to the right. At both stores, no particular brand was given upfront prominence. Leftfoot seemed to draw mostly those in the know and those who know their kicks.
Their new space is, in contrast, a lot more orderly than I remember them to be. Not that Leftfoot was chapalang (messy) to start with, but at the Mandarin Gallery shop, the striking use of shelving units akin to cabinets in a compactor storage and archival system is eye-catching, and allows shoppers to zero in on the kicks they want quickly. The pale office-grey, too, heightened the pleasing orderliness. Additionally, I thought I sensed a seriousness about what they are doing, as if they are now really curating what they sell—the one-side sneakers on those metal shelves like prototypes ready for mass and limited production. The store has nothing blocking its full-glass front, not even a name. On the left, what looked like vintage traffic barriers were the only display, while on the right, a table on a pair of similar-looking trestles stood. I was in the store on a Thursday afternoon and it was, to my surprise, busy. I already had in mind what I wanted, but no sales staff could, at first, be spotted. When she finally appeared, she quickly came to my assistance, found the sneakers in my size for me to try (I sat on one of three small wooden stools dotted in a row in the centre of the store), and then offered to hold it for me at the payment counter while I made up my mind, and continued browsing. And then I spotted a watchman near the entrance, his vigilant gaze deterring would-be shoplifters, but when I left, he said “thank you” with a nod, amicably.
The Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-Up Store
The Left Foot pop-up store at Mandarin Gallery
Like the old Leftfoot in Cineleisure Orchard, the store at Mandarin Gallery is accompanied by a sibling sale outlet on the same floor (interestingly also on level two). The staff at the main shop happily referred me to the Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-Up Store as it’s known, “just behind the escalator”. This sale shop contrasts dramatically and charmingly to Leftfoot itself. While one is all sleek and minimalist and bright, the other is groovy with bohemian vibe, made even more palpable with the discernible smell of incense, wafting in a romantically-lit shoe-box space. Once inside, I thought I was transported to a store lost somewhere in the winding lanes of Harajuku, Tokyo. Nothing about the modestly-appointed pop-up screamed sale. Shoes and bags and other items—even mugs—were mixed with no discernible order, but neatly, as if in a sample room. The bazaar energy intensified the store’s browsability. This space, as I understand, is also an event area of sort, having played host previously to Obey and The Lucky Shop (aka 福乐店 or fu le dian). I would have loved to linger, but it was getting a tad crowded, and the shoppers, probably excited, were speaking too loudly.
It seems that Leftfoot has found itself in the right ’hood. Their immediate neighbours are Carhartt WIP (across) and the multi-label store Manifesto (next door). While not exactly a streetwear haven, Mandarin Gallery—with ‘big’ names fronting the four-story mall—seems to be attracting retailers that offer a street-centric point of view, such as the Euro-cool Manifesto, the goth shop L’amoire, and the alt-bent menswear store Supplies & Company. Some observes think Mandarin Gallery should better define their positioning, but I think it makes a better shopping experience if the mall is less predictable, less like its neighbours, less opposed to unknown/unfamiliar names. And more willing to go with an adventurous retail mix, which now, for a discernible on-going and distant good, includes the 18-year-old Leftfoot.
Leftfoot Family and Friends Pop-up Store will open till the end of year. Photos: Galerie Gombak